True to Life? – Exhibition Review

“True to Life?” an exhibition held at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in rooms 12 & 13

A selection of photographs addressing the social issues surrounding the Middle East, paying particular attention to immigration and representation of women.
The images featured were created by both emerging and established photographers from the region, ranging from Tunisia to Iran.

The set of images I found most compelling were the pieces focusing on immigration, this small part of the exhibition looked at the history, risks and outcomes involved when immigrating from the region.

“Despair” a black and white image by Sukran Moral depicts an overcrowded boat of hopeful immigrants that face the risk of sinking in the belief of a new and better life at their end destination.

 “We usually watch them on the media as frustrating groups of people, without identities, stuck in a boat. They are the contemporary marginals. In my work I tried to give them an identity, an expression and finally a soul.”  – Moral

Their faces show their determination and courage, but as a viewer we can certainly deem their peril.
The nightingales, which have been digitally added, refer to turkish literature where they represent love, hope and separation.
Moral is almost trying to save these men and boys, if the boat sinks she has given wings to the hopeless.

Other images such as “Most Wanted” by Teranah Hemami question the placement of immigrants in their new locations, how society sees them and the stereotypes surrounding them.
Her faceless portraits depict a generic theme of dark skin, veils, beards and other features that we stereotype.
The images are portrayals of what the USA identified as their most wanted terrorists in the country. We see these distinguishable features of dark hair, skin and head dresses and make a mental connection to terrorists and immigrants.
This image certainly has a place within this exhibition, this is our perception of immigrants and explores the link between image and identity.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 21.51.53

Youssef Nabil series titled “The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields” a dozen portraits documenting the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. The images were taken in black and white but were then hand coloured by Nabil which is a local technique used honourably to refer to Yemen.


I always find exhibitions that have been pulled together from different artists so much more engaging, the images were of all different sizes and formats which kept me thinking about how they all fit together as a overall collection.

What does bring all of these images together is all the images featured in the exhibition have been manipulated or staged in some way, making us question as the viewer their authenticity and also the role the manipulation is taking in the meaning of the image.
Other sections of the exhibition address other social issues such as the representation of women in the Middle East and how religions and beliefs are dictating what is deemed acceptable of their behaviour.

As well as depicting specific issues within the region, all images featured in this exhibition have been manipulated in various ways by the photographer, whether that be that the photographer has altered the image, if they have been staged using actors, or if they have used props, we as the viewer have to decide their level of authenticity.
Do these images reflect the truth or are we viewing a version of the truth decided by the photographer?

The location we are viewing is a long way from Birmingham, perhaps this is why the exhibition has been collated in a way in which  we question the stories behind the images, there are scenes and issues we are perhaps not accustomed to being in the UK, but there are some familiarities that we can relate too despite the 3000 mile distance.

The exhibition is free entry and is open to the public until 2nd November 2014 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.


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